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> Posted by Center Staff

ICICI Bank and Stellar: A look at a transaction enabled by blockchain (click to enlarge)

Why are mainstream financial institutions and fintechs partnering to pursue financial inclusion? In the case of ICICI Bank and Stellar, it’s because combining forces enables them to reach clients with a free blockchain-backed mobile wallet that they could not sustainably offer on their own.

Last week we released a new joint report with the Institute of International Finance (IIF), How Financial Institutions and Fintechs Are Partnering for Inclusion: Lessons from the Frontlines. As part of the report, CFI and IIF conducted in-depth interviews with over 30 industry participants. We discovered dozens of partnerships between mainstream financial institutions and fintechs in emerging markets, and we detailed the workings of 14 of them.

The story of ICICI Bank and Stellar began when an ICICI Bank senior executive read a book about new technologies. The book mentioned a blockchain company in Silicon Valley called Stellar. Fast forward to today, Stellar now provides ICICI Bank with an open-source online ledger, or blockchain, designed to oversee the movement of money. ICICI Bank customers in India and abroad can transfer money through a free mobile wallet over Stellar’s platform. These transfers are made in real fiat currency, but internally they are documented in cryptocurrency. While the transfers are recorded on Stellar’s ledger in a cryptocurrency called ‘lumens,’ ICICI Bank holds the value for these transactions in Indian rupees in a pooled account. Due to the open nature of Stellar’s platform, ICICI Bank customers can transfer money to customers at any other bank on the platform. Stellar’s open platform has allowed ICICI Bank to easily connect with financial institutions that it might not have connected with otherwise.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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WeBank started piloting facial recognition for KYC (“know your customer”—verifying that a customer is who they say they are) last year—we heard about it when we talked with Jared Shu, a partner with McKinsey, as part of our deep dive about the different ways banks pursue financial inclusion. At that point, the technology was mere possibility, with some question about whether the regulator would allow it. Now, it seems, facial recognition is indeed serving as a form of identity in China. With the help of technology, customers can quite literally authorize a transaction using their face.

Alipay, a mobile payment app launched by Alibaba in 2004 and used by 120 million people in China, is partnering with Face++ (pronounced “face plus plus”) to allow people to use their face as a credential to make payments. The technology is a natural extension of using a fingerprint to verify a person’s identity, and it is far more secure than just comparing a signature on the back of a credit card to a signature on a receipt.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Internet privacy rules have just been overturned in the U.S. by Congress and the Administration, and at the same time, struggles over banking privacy are taking place. There are striking similarities as well as crucial differences. As a consumer protection advocate, I am struck by how the narrative about these kinds of conflicts primarily centers on where competitive advantage lies, and which company or industry is made the winner or loser, rather than about the rights of consumers.

The internet case pits telecoms and cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, against internet companies, like Google and Facebook. The Obama-era rules that were just overturned required broadband providers to ask customer permission before tracking, sharing and/or selling their data. These companies complain that the rules disadvantage them relative to internet-based companies, which can collect data without such rules.

The banking case, as reported in The New York Times, pits major banks against fintechs and data aggregators. The question is whether banks will transfer consumer data – at the consumer’s request – to companies that provide personal financial management tools, like Mint, Betterment, and Digit (or to data aggregators that facilitate the transfer – like Plaid and Yodlee). Without this data the financial management apps cannot build the complete portrait of a person’s financial life they need to provide analysis and advice. But banks are reluctant, even after specific consumer requests. You might think this reluctance is to protect their customers or because of data privacy rules for banking, but actually, according to The Times, it’s because the customer data reveals details about banks’ own business models – like pricing and products. The banks fear, probably correctly, that the personal financial management companies will use the information to undercut bank products with their own offerings.

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> Posted by Kim Wilson

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Predictably, the long tentacles of financial inclusion have coiled themselves around the most vulnerable targets of humanitarian aid: low income refugees, migrants and displaced populations (hereon: “refugees”).

Just as predictably, the financial inclusion agenda is driven by suppliers (aid providers, donors, financial intermediaries and governments). Few refugees are demanding to be included in a digital/formal ecosystem. That does not mean they don’t appreciate the shelter, food and cash that humanitarian agencies have mustered on their behalf. They do. They also appreciate the efforts of those same agencies to make cash assistance easier. E-cash that can be transformed into physical cash at convenient times and places is an example. Use of debit cards at ATMs to withdraw cash from digital accounts can cut valuable time otherwise spent waiting in long cash distribution queues. Very appreciated, indeed.

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, CFI

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A customer waits to collect money at the Juba Express money transfer company in Mogadishu, Somalia. 

This post is part of a series examining the global phenomenon of de-risking and its impact on financial inclusion. To investigate this issue, CFI staff partnered with Credit Suisse Global Citizen Rissa Ofilada, a compliance lawyer based in the Philippines, to undertake a literature review and conduct interviews with key players in the conversation on de-risking.

This is not a rhetorical question—I really do want to know. As we’ve put out a modest blog series about de-risking, I’ve been thinking about regulations on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Are stringent regulations and dramatic consequences for non-compliance really necessary? Is it fair to expect the financial system to bear so large a burden? Would it be better for everyone if the onus were on law enforcement to detect and eliminate illicit activity and financial institutions just had to cooperate where necessary?

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> Posted by Sonja Kelly, Director, CFI

A recent Facebook promotion by a U.K. coffee shop offered,  “Like us on Facebook and get a free coffee!” This line would totally get me. Wait… all I have to do is click one little button, and I can save $2? Sign me up!

A free cup of coffee, however, was not the only thing that customers received when they liked the coffee shop’s Facebook page. They also got a very “personalized” experience, complete with the barista at the coffee shop rattling off their job, religion, birthdate, address, mother’s maiden name, and more.

Check out the video that documented the customers’ experiences here:

(My favorite part is when the barista says to the customer, “Oh, we know everything about you, Martin.”)

As part of the CFI Fellows Program one of our fellows, AJ Mowl, has been looking at some of the pros and cons of leveraging consumer data for financial inclusion. As she has relayed to me some of the basic facts about big data, I have become more and more aware of just how big big data is—and what the consequences are when I trade access to my data for services.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

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You could say it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. In certain industries, for talented individuals, as sure as their rise to fame is their fall to bankruptcy, or at least, to mountains of debt. Ever since the meteoric rise of certain cash-bloated industries, like sports, music, and film, to name a few, we’ve seen star after star go from being set-for-life to being, astonishingly, in dire financial straits.

The latest to be added to this list? Kayne West. The divisive hip-hop titan and cultural icon recently revealed that he is more than $50 million in personal debt*. The announcement came a few weeks ago at the tail end of the media circus surrounding his most recent album release. Along with the album, he launched a new fashion line – both to generally positive reviews. Arguably at the height of his talents in both pursuits, one wouldn’t suspect Mr. West of being in the red. In fact, in multiple songs on his new album his lyrics suggest otherwise: “10 thousand dollar fur for Nori, I just copped it, yo!” (Nori is his two-year-old daughter, who does indeed dress very well.) Kanye’s financial problems are so great that he took to Twitter to publicly ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google Co-Founder Larry Page for money so that he could continue to make his art. It remains to be seen if the tech billionaires will bankroll the self-proclaimed “most important living artist”.

Along with Kanye, famous musicians who have gone bankrupt over the years include Marvin Gaye, David Crosby, Vanilla Ice, Jerry Lee Lewis, MC Hammer, and George Clinton. We could go on. Big names, which alludes to a big (and potentially growing) problem.

In the world of professional sports, financial stress is extremely well-documented. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78 percent of National Football League (American football) players have either gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. Within five years of retirement, roughly 60 percent of former National Basketball Association players are broke.

How does this happen? And should we care?

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> Posted by Robyn Robertson, Training and Capability Development Lead, Good Return

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Disruption and breakthrough innovation often comes from huge need, unmet latent demand, and not enough resources for traditional solutions to work!

The financial inclusion space is changing rapidly in Cambodia. Competition is intense, with 36 commercial banks, 11 specialized banks, 38 microfinance institutions, and over 400 NGOs currently applying for financing licenses. As this congested sector moves forward, catering to an increasingly digitally connected and aspirational market, the population is offered a sprawling range of new money management and credit options.

As consumer credit and digital financial products become more accessible in Cambodia, there is increasing risk that Cambodia’s youth (who represent newer and less experienced consumers) and the very poor (who are more vulnerable to economic shocks) can be harmed through becoming over-indebted, falling victim to scams, predatory pricing or poorly suited financial products.

For services perceived to be ‘essential,’ such is the case with financial services, the potential for consumer dissatisfaction is great if there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they experience or observe.

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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist

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On August 4, Facebook received approval on a patent it had purchased in a bundle from the defunct social network Friendster. It primarily describes a mechanism to weed out content depending on whether it travels via trusted nodes in a user’s social network. This might not have caused much of a stir, had it not been for entrepreneur and blogger Mikhail Avady’s revelation that the patent also includes the following application:

“In a fourth embodiment of the invention, the service provider is a lender. When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.”

Many commentators and journalists reacted with alarm, while Facebook has not offered comment on the story. It is unclear whether or not a product will be developed out of this particular embodiment of the invention. A Daily KOS headline proclaims that “Facebook Gets Patent to Discriminate Against You Based on Your Social Network”, and a Popular Science writer notes that “It’s totally not something straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia”. This MSN article warns readers to purge their less trustworthy friends, though it also notes that the technology could relegate some consumers to riskier lenders. In the non-financial press, less attention is given to the potential upshots for thin-file loan applicants. The list of concerned news outlets stretches well beyond the first page of search results I examined after Googling the patent’s text.

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> Posted by Center Staff

On Wednesday, a new joint-initiative was launched that puts free financial education lessons into the phones of Tigo’s seven million mobile subscribers in Colombia. The service, Su Dinero (Your Money), features online financial education content from Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) tailored to the local Colombian context. Supported by project partners DAI and Souktel, the financial education platform is housed on Facebook’s Internet.org phone application. Though web-based, the app can be accessed by Tigo’s mobile subscribers without cost or data charges due to the businesses’ unique arrangement, aligned with Internet.org’s social mission: extending affordable internet access to the five billion people around the world who don’t have it.

Less than a third of the global population use internet-based financial or commercial services. By and large this isn’t a reflection of a lack of connectivity, as mobile phone reception now covers about 85 percent of the inhabited world, although smart phones penetration is far lower. Internet.org, founded by Facebook in 2013, is out to make internet access 100-times more affordable and increase uptake worldwide by targeting the following barriers: cost of devices; cost of service plans; lack of content in local languages; limited availability of power sources; difficulty in networks supporting large amounts of data; lack of awareness of the value of the internet; and remaining gaps in mobile network connectivity.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.